Thursday, December 31, 2009

These Are A Few Of My (least) Favorite Things

Here we are – the last item on my list of peeves. Happy New Year’s Eve everyone – I have about ten more hours to freely be a snippy little brat. I plan to take full advantage of each one.

Volume 5: Six Things That Bug Me About Tourists

Gripe One: I would be out of work without them, and unfortunately I am one from time to time.

I want to hate them – I want to hate most of them. I do hate some of them. But until I can jettison myself completely from this industry, they will be the reason I get paid. They are my actual bosses, like it or not. And though I don’t deal directly with tourists as much as I used to, I do have to deal with those who coordinate their travel – or rather, those who get paid to coordinate their travel and have me do it.

If it weren’t for the tourists, there would be no hotels. If it weren’t for hotels, many psychotic people would be out of work. So as much as I want to hate many of them, I also have to be grudgingly grateful for them.

I also have to be one from time to time, as I love to travel whenever I can. I love seeing new places, I even get excited when going to a state I’ve never seen or know little about. Though you will never catch me with a neon Velcro fanny pack or a 35mm camera draped around my neck, and you will never see me with a fold-out map standing in an intersection, I am still, nevertheless, a tourist from time to time.

Gripe Two: Breakfast Monsters

After years of getting up at 4 or 5am and serving breakfast to tour groups, I have come to call one of my “favorite” groups of people Breakfast Monsters.

Early mornings tend to bring out the absolute worst in people. Add to the mix the fact that I’m still trying to wake up, take in my coffee, and deal with anywhere from 10 to 500 grumpy tourists, and you have a recipe for a fabulous morning.

I have actually heard people grunt as they shove their way through a buffet, mumble their order and generally just stare off into space. (A word to the wise - they glare at you if you interrupt them, so it's generally best to let them stare and just give them more coffee).

Then you have the bussed-in groups who have never really been in a hotel, have no idea what the difference between banquet and ala carte is, (wondering why they can’t get, say rockfish on demand – people, the kitchens only order what’s needed) and are generally exhausted. Those groups do not give people much in the way of free time, and make them get up very early in the morning.

One thing I will never miss about F&B are the breakfast monsters.

Gripe Three: American Tour Groups

Yes, I am an American. I am also a tourist from time to time. But working in England, the tour groups consisted of exactly the wrong people you would want representing our country – they are the people who, as I said yesterday, do a tour of Windsor Castle, have a cream tea, and pronounce that they have done Windsor.

While hosting an American tour group once a week on the boat, serving their lunch was always a frustrating experience. These groups would take literally twenty to thirty napkins from the buffet, pile their plate with food well beyond what they could possibly eat, so consequently much was thrown away. I never realized how wasteful our culture can be until I worked in tourism in another country.

I was always finding myself defending Americans, explaining that individual travelers and tour groups are different breeds. These were the ones who asked the worst questions (see “Gold Nametags Are All The Rage”).

However – they also were the best tippers. Always.

It’s an unfortunate fact that since I am not very loud by nature, detest McDonald’s, don’t drink a lot of beer, and don’t even understand American Football (let alone watch it), that most of my friends and coworkers assumed I was Canadian.

It’s not that I hate American tourists. It’s the loud tour groups snaking through the otherwise tranquil towns that really upset me – because they do not represent who we are.

I realize there are wonderful, educational tour groups out there. It’s just that once their accents are heard, everybody assumes they must be  Canadian.

Grip Four: Whirlwind Excursions

Just as the castle-tour-cream tea group has done Windsor in a few hours, there are those who try to squeeze so much into their vacation, they essentially see and learn nothing.

When I was in St Thomas I discovered (to my dismay) the “shopping district” - not the real shopping district in downtown Charlotte Amalie – but the one fenced in, wrapped around the cruise ship port. This was what many, if not most visitors saw of St Thomas. They bought their inexpensive leather and jewelry, and never saw what a beautiful island and charming city was waiting for them beyond the tall cruise line gates. They were completely insulated from everything that's wonderful about that island, and let themselves be shown what some corporate travel company believed they wanted to see. As I consider travelling a spiritual experience on many levels, I consider what is done to these tourists a crime.

On so many of these cruises and tour groups, and in an over-itineraried (not sure that's a word, but I just coined it) vacation, you maybe see one attraction or a host of shops. Congratulations, you discovered local retail. You really don’t get to see the place or get to know its citizens. That takes time, and it takes wandering off the Main or High Streets and major thoroughfares. Sure, see a museum, I’m a big fan of museums. But make sure you get at least a little lost. Make sure you speak to someone. Make sure you ask for a recommendation or two. (Just think before you ask - see Gripe Six).  

Otherwise, save yourself some time and go to Epcot – most countries are represented there, and you will find what you must be looking for if you really don’t care to know the soul of a place.

Gripe Five: Not Learning A Single Thing About Where You’re Going Before You Go

Sure, much can be said about having a clean slate while visiting a new place. My good friend Maria came to visit in Rhode Island and took me to a few towns about which I knew nothing, and I was very grateful for that. I hate that I had lived there for so long and had not realized how beautiful it really was.

But to plan a vacation and not bother to learn a thing about where you’re going robs you of the chance to look deeper into your destination. You can read all about a place and then see it first hand to give you a richer understanding of the locale. Otherwise, you’re the guy with a fanny pack and map in an intersection, picking museums at random.

Gripe Six: Obvious Tourists

There’s something about being a constant outsider, looking at the real living town around you as if you’re looking at it under glass in a museum that does both the tourist and the destination a grave injustice.

You’re in a community – a real place. You are not in a living museum. People call where you’re going their home. Please respect that. Feel free to look with wonder and awe. But there is a fine line between that and gawking.

Asking for directions is fine, but think before you ask. Look around you. If everything looks antiquated, you may not want to ask for directions to the historic district. And don’t ask generalized questions such as “where are the restaurants” or “where is the museum.” You won’t get an answer to your complete satisfaction.

Taking pictures is a must, wherever you go. But please do not take pictures of the locals for your own amusement. And if you do stop someone to take a picture of you and your companion(s), please do not ask for thirteen different angles and combinations of family members. It is not a wedding.

So there you have it my friends. I will now step down off my soap box and enjoy New Year’s Eve with a few good friends. I hope that now I’ve vented a little, I will be better company, and better prepared to make this resolution. As my sister said in her blog, I’m going to try not to sweat the small stuff. Maybe she and I can help each other with this.

I’m going to work on something positive to say tomorrow, to start this year off right.

2009, you will not be missed. Goodbye, and do not let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Re: Sunday's Rant

I just returned to my desk, and check out what was waiting for me:

These Are A Few Of My (least) Favorite Things

Counting down to the new year, here is number four of five sets of items that really get on my tits.

Volume 4: Five Myths About The English

To describe the English as a single people is daunting, if even possible. It’s far easier to describe what they’re not. The stereotype of the tea-drinking, horseback-riding socialite is as off as describing every American as a Disney-loving, burger-downing, beer-chugging, loud obnoxious American Football fanatic.

To follow are what I consider the five most egregious errors in American perception of the Brits.

Myth #1. All English People Are Polite

This one is probably the most laughable. The English are a far more cynical people as a general rule – and they do not bend over backwards mincing words and dancing around topics nearly as much as we Americans tend to.

In the US if you are overweight, you are: plus-sized, curvy, heavier, etc…
In England if you are overweight you are: Fat. Bulbous. Rotund. Pudgy.

The English tend to be far more direct, and as above, will think nothing of calling a spade a spade, as they say.

There seems to be a perception that rednecks are indigenous and located only in the US. There are rednecks everywhere, and you can find just as many at a truck stop in Mississippi as you can at a rugby match in a pub. I challenge you to point out the differences in attitude and disposition.

Myth #2. All English People Drink Tea

Well, many of them do. But the water is different there, and therefore the tea tastes totally different. The fact is, they look at tea as we look at coffee. And no, they do not drink it out of small doilied china. They drink it out of whatever’s handy. And no, they do not have crumpets and scones with each tea. Probably as many drink coffee as they do tea.

Myth #3. The English Accent

As in the Southern accent I mentioned a couple of days ago, there is no one single English accent. In fact, you might travel 20 minutes in another direction and encounter a very different dialect.

My Dad could discern where an English person was from, usually within 20 miles or so, after hearing a single sentence spoken. And no, they do not all speak “the Queen’s English.” In fact, if you think some of our accents can be grating, try listening to some of theirs.

The first time I heard a Brummie accent, I didn’t even recognize it as English.

Myth #4. The Food Is Terrible

I went to Chef’s school in England, and I can tell you categorically that this is flat wrong. Yes, there are a few English dishes that our palates may not be able to handle, as were not raised on these dishes. There’s Marmite, (a spread), which resembles axel grease in color, texture and smell. There’s black pudding, which is essentially congealed blood, and of course steak & kidney pie. But there are also some wonderful stews, desserts, sausages, soups, roasts, and sauces.

The Full English Breakfast, consisting of baked beans, stewed tomatoes, fried eggs, bacon, (real – or what we in the US call Canadian – bacon), sausage, and toast. There is nothing better for a hangover than the Full English Breakfast, which is for what I believe it was designed.

An argument can be made that curry, as we know it anyway, originated in England. There is nothing better than to walk out of a pub at midnight, having had way too many local beers, and get a doner kebab at a stand to accompany you on the stagger home.

Cornish Pasties, a meat and potato-filled puff pastry were designed for farmers to carry and eat while they worked. If you can find a real one, do not pass it up.

English food is – simply – wonderful. Designed to be hearty in the bitterly cold, damp English winters, you cannot go wrong (or rarely) with a pub dinner in the countryside. I challenge anyone who has never been to sample the food in England and come back to tell me it’s not good.

Myth #5. The English Have Bad Teeth.

Some do. But some do here as well. The cultures in the US and the UK are not entirely alien to each other – they’re at once similar and a world apart. But the aesthetic sense is very much the same. No, the NHS is not perfect, and yes, the NHS will just assume pull a tooth out as repair it (or so I’ve heard), but on the whole, English teeth are as straight and white as those in the US.

I have so much more to say on this topic, but for the sake of brevity I thought I’d narrow this down to what I believe to be the top five.

Some of these prejudices definitely go both ways. Ask some English people to draw a picture of the US, and you will notice Florida taking up about half the country. I was even told by a coworker there that the only way they go to the US is to fly directly into Disney World and fly directly back out. To me that’s just as obscene as Americans flying into London and back out, with nothing in between but London. Or the tour groups that stop in a place like Windsor and have a cream tea, see the castle and leave, and say they “did Windsor.”

You cannot get to know a place in a tour group. But that rant will wait for tomorrow, when I will go off on what ticks me off about tourists, (yes, I know they’re the reason I have a job, and I know I have been known to be one) and will complete my 2009 bitch session.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

These Are A Few Of My (least) Favorite Things

To follow is rant #3 of five, leading into the New Year – for 2010 I have pledged not to let the little things bother me to the extent they do – but it’s still 2009, so I’m going to rant away.

Volume 3: Ten Annoying Things About Social Networks

1. Woot.

While this word seems to be working its way into our digital lexicon, it always reminds me of who I referred to as the “woo girls.” These are the college girls who stick their heads out of apartment windows, car windows, and over balconies, shrieking “woooo!” as if anyone really cared to know that they were drunk and attention-seeking.

Aside from this, what the hell does it mean?

2. Thread Jacking

Suppose you or someone else posts something about, say, their dog Beau. Maybe Beau learned to fetch. So someone posts “Beau learned to fetch today” on their status message. So let’s say now that the poster has 672 of their closest friends linked to them in Facebook. By the time the thread is over, the topic of discussion is either Hillary Clinton, God, or Obama.

There are people out there who do this intentionally. It can be found at the bottom of any news article with comment posting enabled, or any other online article. Shoved in the middle of the tangential threads are ads for Extenze and black market Viagra.

If you really want to see a prime thread jack, read one of Obama’s Facebook posts. By the time you’ve even gotten to it the discussion (which may have been about healthcare) is about whether Bush should have been impeached, or whether Sarah Palin’s imaginary death panels are part of a global conspiracy to propel Glen Beck to the presidency.

3. Fishing For Sympathetic Comments By Way Of Open-Ended Status Messages

“John Smith is downing a bottle of vodka while watching everything fall apart.”

Okay – well, assuming all of your 672 friends really want to know, you actually told them nothing here. You just told them you were drunk and feeling sorry for yourself. So you wait for the inevitable “what’s wrong honey” and “it’s not that bad – pick yourself up again.” In the end, absolutely nothing was said.

If something is really wrong, and you’re not looking for open-ended sympathy for a problem that nobody understands, simply pick up the phone or send a private message to somebody who may actually be able to help you, or at least lend a dedicated ear. Otherwise, you’ve just told the world that you’re unhappy for no particular reason.

4. I Don’t Care About Your Mafia Or Your Farm

As of this posting I am deleting Mafia Wars in an effort to stop getting so many gift invitations and updates on how much “money” my Mafia friends have. I am on Facebook to keep up with people I would not otherwise be in touch with on a regular basis. I am not on Facebook to rob a bank, plant a crop or purchase a small country. Stop asking me, please. Even though I’ve turned off status messages from certain people who seem to do nothing but this, I’m still getting requests and invitations.

As my friend Anna recently said on Facebook when prompted to help fertilize someone’s crops, “don’t bloody tempt me.”

5. Friending From Strangers

You and I happen to know the same person, or you’re on some narcissistic quest to have more Facebook friends than anyone else you know. Okay, fine – that does not mean that I care to have you on my list. If you have not heard from me, please do not request again. I probably will not change my mind.

If we know the same person and you think we may have something to talk about, send me a message first.

6. Slamming Your Current or Former Employer

Recently an associate was “released” (I prefer “released” to “fired” – “fired” sounds negative – when I hear “release” I think doves – but I digress). This former associate proceeded to get very nasty about our current property. It really made her look defensive and petty – which I guess she was. It’s just bad form. If your friends on Facebook are actually friends, odds are they will not assume you were fired – sorry, released – due to your own actions.

Saying something negative about your current employer can get you released as well. Things get out. People love to talk. Again – I highly recommend using private messages for situations such as these.

7. <3

It does not look like a heart. It looks like a butt.

8. Glittery, Sparkly Crap

If I log into a MySpace or Blogger page and the first thing I see are silly little bees sprinkling glitter on the page, or fireworks that would have looked at home on a circa 1986 Rainbow Bright Atari game, I will log off. I will log off immediately.

And while I’m guilty of throwing music out on my blog, you at least have the option of pausing, turning down the volume, or changing the song.

I promise to never do this to you. And your cursor will never become a dragonfly or pixie with a stardust trail while on my page.

9. Endless Forwards

Receiving a chain email that tells me that I will have my wishes granted within seven days of forwarding this message, or that I will get hit by a car if I don’t, is aggravating. But at least in my email account I can hit the “spam” button. Receiving this kind of thing in my Facebook inbox increases the annoyance by a factor of ten.

My typical response used to be to reply back to the person who sent it, and tell them they were thereby released from any magical obligation they fell victim to by opening the email, and they were thereby released from any future obligations they might have by opening future emails. They are then to reply to the person that sent it to them with the same message. This really didn’t work, but it was fun.

When receiving these messages in Facebook, a medium in which I feel I should receive little or no spam, I’m tempted to start unfriending.

Additionally, if you feel you absolutely must forward a Facebook message, (which takes some effort in the way of copying and pasting), PLEASE delete all the crap that includes everyone’s response who ever received it over the past several months. I do not want to scroll down a mile of forwarding info before I reach the meat of the message.

10. E-Signatures In Private Messages

I know who the message is from. If you’re in my Facebook list it means I know you. And I do not need to read your “motivational” quote each time you send me a message. Since there are no e-signatures in Facebook it means you’ve been copying and pasting it from your email.

Stop it.

Thanks for listening. Only two more rants to go, and then I will attempt to play nice. Sometimes. More often than now, anyway. Or at least I’ll make a valiant effort.

Will Shealy is: Logging off. Have a great night!

Monday, December 28, 2009

These Are a Few of My (least) Favorite Things

Since my New Year's resolution is to stop letting my pet peeves get under my skin, to follow is day two (of five) of my soap box rants leading into the newer, happier, far less irritable 2010.

Volume Two: Four Annoying Misconceptions about South Carolina (and South Carolinians)

Myth #1: A Place Called Carolina

Let me start this one with a simple fact: South Carolina is a state. It is not a region of Carolina, as some from "off" seem to believe. The State of Carolina does not exist. There is South Carolina, and there is North Carolina. If you called South Carolina Fred, and North Carolina Ginger, it would be the same. I am not from Carolina. I was born and raised in South Carolina. If and when you ever meet someone from North Carolina or South Carolina, do not ask them about Carolina.

Myth #2: Southern Accents Are The Same, And They Denote Stupidity And/Or Laziness

Making an assumption when you hear a Southern accent that the speaker may not be as well-educated or well-traveled as most, is in itself a lazy way of thinking. It is simply the way they speak. And there is no one Southern accent. In fact, there is no one single South Carolina accent. I can often tell when speaking with someone of they're from the Midlands, the Lowcountry or the Upstate. They all have their own unique lingual flavors. My previous rant notwithstanding, an articulate Southern accent can be a charming thing to listen to. (Ending in a preposition there - I'm learning to accept it). The Huguenot influence on the Charleston accent alone is worth listening to, if you can find someone who still speaks it.
Has anyone ever listened to the horticulturalist Rowland Alston of Making It Grow? When recording shorts for ETV Public Radio, he frequently refers to "sol." The object to which he's referring (there's the preposition issue again) is actually "soil." Yet here is a professor from Clemson University, the host of his own gardening program. He gives lectures, teaches classes, and writes. He does all three quite well.
Had I made assumptions about peoples' intellect or how interesting they may or may not be when confronting the dialects of many Rhode Islanders or Londonders, I would not have come to know some truly incredible people.

Myth #3: South Carolina Is The Buckle On The Bible Belt

While it's true that South Carolina is the home of the tolerance vacuum that is Bob Jones University, it is also home to some 77 colleges and universities, only a handful of which are likely to tell you why and how you are going to Hell. Many of the rest, including the Citadel, College of Charleston, Furman University, University of South Carolina, and Celmson University have made pretty good names for themselves.
Columbia is actually one of the more liberal cities I've experienced. This includes Providence, and certainly includes Slough. It may seem like a small conservative Southern town at first glance, but one barely h as to scratch the surface to find a thriving set of subcultures. It's actually far more interesting a city than it was when I grew up.
Greenville, while certainly built on a conservative foundation, with its influx of foreign workers and peripheral business growth, is quickly becoming a far more diverse city than many I've seen (likely more of one than many inhabitants would like). While Charleston's growing population of students who choose to remain (who could not fall in love with that city) and the installation of the new Boeing facility, as well as the soon-to-be much larger GE wind turbine facility, Charleston is set to become a far more metropolitan area than even most South Carolinians would have ever predicted.
With the transplant population ready to explode, we can almost watch the percentage of Evangelicals shrink. I'm not saying anything bad about Christians in general, far from it. I'm not even saying anything negative about many evangelicals. I am however saying that Alabama should make some room in the very near future.
Besides, would the buckle on the Bible Belt ever produce the likes of Stephen Colbert?

Myth #4: South Carolina is a Racist, Bigoted State

Sadly, there are racists everywhere.  But the fact that I was in the eighth grade before I realized racism was still an issue here should say something, and my mother did not raise a sheltered child. I'm sure she made a point of not having it brought up as an issue, and she has always been a proponent of diversity. She too, by the way, was born and raised in South Carolina.
Actually, I encountered far more aggressive racism in England that I ever saw growing up here. In fact, I even saw a bit more of it in New England than I've ever seen in Charleston. It's the perception of racism that maintains it as issue, and in itself perpetuates the myth and the fact. Put simply: if you raise an issue enough, existent or not (and I'm not saying it's non-existent, just not as prevalent as those in and outside the state would like to believe or would like us to believe), it becomes, or at the very least remains, a tangible issue. It's impossible to be color-blind if all you ever talk about is color.
As far as homosexuals are concerned - Columbia is one of the very few places I've ever felt comfortable showing any type of affection toward a member of the same sex in public. There are bars in Columbia that are proudly "mixed." And at the Pantheon Club in Charleston, a self-procalimed gay dance club, there are often as many straight men as gay. As industry grows and word of Charleston continues to get out (as much as that pains some of us), the openly gay population will continue to grow. Once again Alabama, watch out for some ex-pats.

I could easily go on. But it's cold out here, (we have Winter in South Carolina as well - but it's relegated to two or three months, between the hours of about 7pm and 8am). My fingers are numb, and I should stop before I continue to insult Alabama the way so many have done to us.

I'm sure it's a nice place.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

These Are a Few of My (least) Favorite Things

I'm making a New Year's Resolution this year to stop letting the petty things in life get under my skin like tiny shards of glass. I let so many little things irritate me that I feel it's become a distraction. So, I've decided that between now and the new year I'm going to rant. I'm going to take the opportunity to stand high and lofty on my digital soapbox and let spew a few things that bother me on a nearly daily basis.  Sit back and enjoy.

Volume One: Twelve Common Abuses of Our Wonderful Language

I love the English language. This could be in part due to the fact that it's the only one I know. After all, anybody who hates their only verbal form of communication may have other issues they need to work through -  but I do love words. I love the way they (if allowed) can work together to form a picture in a beautifully constructed sentence. I love the way they can change form and meaning if one simply places them in another context, or how spoken meaning of said words changes depending on which word is stressed. I love puns, I love poems, I love lyrics. I love my language, and am therefore very defensive of it.

It breaks my heart when I hear our language casually ripped apart - and with simple errors, errors that if you stand back and look at them you can see how they can ruin an otherwise wonderfully crafted sentence. Listed below are a few common (and most annoying) of crimes against English I hear on a daily basis.

1) Improper use of "myself"

There is a very well-respected, otherwise articulate individual at our hotel that does this on a nearly daily basis. He will say "Come see (insert name) or myself if you have any questions," etc.

If you do this, this is directed at you. Stop it. Look at the sentence and simply remove the inserted name, then read "come see myself if you have any questions." If you're still not seeing the issue, think of it this way: direct the sentence elsewhere, as in: "Go see Bob if you have any questions." Now remove Bob and replace with "himself."  "Go see himself if you have any questions." Do you see now why it's so damn annoying?

2) Too, to, and two

The most common place I see this is on Facebook. I am going to lobby for a grammer-checker application for use in status boxes. This is really, truly, asinine. I'm just going to use one example, as it's the most common.

Too and to: Too - as in, "also," "as well," "in addition to." Most people actually don't put this one out of context - it's "to" that gets put in its place. So - if you want to say, "I will go too," that implies that you're going with someone, or are going as well. If you say "I want to go to," I'm just left wondering to where you would like to go.

Two: It's a number. It means one plus one. Nothing else. Please.

3) The misused apostrophe.

An apostrophe denotes ownership, not pluralization. There is the rare occasion when an apostrophe may be used to shorten a word, or represent multiple letters. For instance: I work daily with something called a BEO, standing for Banquet Event Order. What it is is not important right now - what is, is the fact that I often need to speak of them in multiples. For a while I was refusing to type "BEO's", as I would be lead to think "the BEO's what?" However, after researching this, I've discovered that when pluralizing acronyms, it's generally accepted to use the apostrophe.

Now for the inexcusable. Someone I know - and I will end it there becuase I really like this person - had a sign made for my sister's door - it reads: "The Vaughn's."  Okay - the Vaughn's what? And is there only one Vaughn?

I see this on marquis signs, I see it printed. I see it commonly referring to a family name - why? Where did this get picked up? Please think before you print.

4) Linguistic redundancy.

To follow is a list of phrases that make me want to yell profanity.

-Eye sight
-Bread roll
-Foot bridge
-6AM in the morning
-Tuna fish
-Over exaggerating
-Accidental mistake (yes, I hear this often)

5) Multiple exclamation and question marks

One does the trick.

6) Its and It's.

"It's" means "It is," while "Its" denotes ownership. So quit getting it wrong. You look stupid. I understand the occasional type-o, I'm guilty of it myself, (note the usage of "myself" here), but when I see it in emails day - after day - after day, I tend to kick things.

7) The spelling of common items changing due to corporate labeling

For instance, "donuts." More than once has this been spelled this way to me. I recently saw it on a buffet label. And while we're talking about buffets, as a banquet manager I was once asked to bring out another dish of "McMuffins." They were English Muffins with eggs. We were in a Marriott, not a McDonald's - we did not provide "McMuffins."

8) Me and I
"Me and Joe went to the store." Let me pick this one apart slowly and painfully so you might understand my annoyance. Suppose we take Joe out of the equation. The sentence becomes "Me went to the store." You sound like a three year-old.

"James and me went to the store." Once again - "Me went to the store."

"Are you coming to the movie with Mark and I?" Reworded: "Are you coming to the movie with I?"

"Sarah, Michelle and me do not like grapes." Reworded (adjusted for tense): "Me does not like grapes."

If you're ever unsure, remove the additional subject and you have your answer. Otherwise, you really do sound idiotic.

9) They're, there and Their

Yes, I'm going there.

"They're" is a contraction of "they" and "are." "Their" is plural possessive - multiples showing ownership, as in - "their flowers." "There" is a preposition, or a description of location. Get it right.

10) Ain't and Y'all

There are those who believe the abomination that is "ain't"  is officially working its way into our language. I will never, ever, ever use it. Never. Not if you paid me. (If you paid me I might. Might). Here's why I hate it:

This is supposedly a contraction of "are not," but if you were to apply this definition, it wouldn't be broad enough, as it's commonly used for "is not" as well. So this word would need to be the only contraction flexible enough to be unchanging given any context, singular or plural. English does not work this way, but if one were to apply rules to this accident of a word, it would still be misused. Trust me.

On the other hand, we have "y'all." I've actually made a few attempts over the past ten months back in South Carolina to use it, and while it still does not come out the same as it leaves my lips, (my lack of any particular accent makes it strange-sounding), when taken as a contraction of "you all", it makes an odd sort of sense. This one actually doesn't piss me off all that much. 

11) Ending sentence in prepositions

I realize there's a growing consensus that this is okay. But I still find myself at times performing verbal acrobatics to get around it. Winston Churchill famously said that "ending a sentence in a preposition is something with which I will not put." Fair enough. It can make you sound a little like Yoda if you take the rule too seriously.

That being said, it still irks me somehow. In previous entries on this blog I've done this, and have to fight the urge to go back and correct. However, hearing someone ask me where something is "at" almost always causes my stomach to turn. No, I do not use the "behind the at" adage as a response, as sometimes I think this is reserved for users of "ain't." (Sorry to my dear family who do use this "corrective" phrase - and the word "ain't"). No, typically I either won't answer, or I'll fire a glance, either at them or when they can no longer see me.

12) The term "reverse racism"

Okay, I realize this is more specific, and may not belong here. But as long as I'm ranting, I'll bring this to the table.

Racism is racism. As a gay man, I can tell you that calling someone a reverse racist is the same as calling me a reverse sexual. It doesn't apply. Calling someone a reverse racist to me sounds as if they're anti-racist. Stop using that one. No, please.

13) Alot

It's two words. And it doesn't say a lot. Use it sparingly.

There are so, so many more. I may add to this as I think of it, but please, let me know what else you can think of. Misery loves company, fellow English lovers, so let me know what common crimes against the written or spoken word make you want to scream.

So ends my rant. For now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

About Face

Usually I think very hard about what I'm going to write. I diagram, outline, brainstorm, and lay my thoughts and feelings out on paper to organize and make coherent before funneling them onto the monitor. But something is always lost in translation. Some nuance of emotion can never quite be translated and strung into a meaningful sentence. So I decided this time I would simply write what I'm thinking, as I think it, and hope that maybe what I'm feeling will take form in the written word. And maybe then I can look at it and figure it out for myself. Because I'm not exactly sure what I'm feeling.

My sister and my mother wrote two beautiful, but very different blogs today. Mandy wrote about what was lost and her reminders of last Christmas - when we knew our Dad would not be around for this one. She wrote about the last time we were able to really drink and laugh together, on her porch, freezing but letting the laughter and alcohol warm us. It was a welcome but fleeting relief, when we forgot about the chemo, the weight loss, the event we knew that would come, just didn't know it would be the following April.
She wrote about the mockingbird, the animal that's become a family symbol of the man we love so dearly and miss so terribly.

My mother however,  wrote about looking forward, about how Christmases will still come as people come and go. She wrote about how life gives us the gifts we need to accept death.
I had a hard time reading my sister's latest entry, maybe because it just hits so close to home with me. It must have taken so much out of her to write it, so honest it was. Maybe it was so hard because I've still, no matter how hard I try not to, have been dealing with this the best way I know how - through distraction.

The last time I visited my Dad's grave, I sat in the grass and talked to him until the dam burst and my grief came rushing out. I thought I would never get back off the ground, and doubted I had the strength strength to do so. Couple this with the fact that I have left who I still think may have been the love of my life - or at least the first person I was ever truly in love with, and one moment I'm full of life, the next I feel numb. One moment I'm grateful for what I have, the next I'm staring off into space thinking about Rhode Island or England.

I left my partner back in February to come home to take care of our Dad while he was sick. I thought the separation would be temporary. When I first moved up to Rhode Island to be with my him, I was escaping. I was escaping a horrible job in DC - and into the arms of someone who loved me. Before that, I went to DC to escape a stagnant life in Charleston. Prior to Charleston I was in England, a place where I rushed to escape a similar stagnation in Columbia.

I've been obsessed with changing who I was at any given point in life. My hair has been black, blonde red, and every color in the spectrum in between. My face has been pierced, then left to heal. I've had glasses, then contacts, then glasses. I've gained weight, lost it, gained it, and lost it again. I've always been obsessed with being different - not from anyone around me, but from whomever I chose to be previously. I've left jobs as I've been promoted, left relationships undeveloped, left friendships when my friends needed me the most, never bringing anything to completion. I think I've always been so terrified of losing anything, I've let it go before I could experience what it was to really have it. Maybe the distance I've put between my family and me at times is a symptom of that. And now I hold them closer than ever because I cannot handle losing anything else, while I learn to live with the loss I've had this year.

So here I am, home because I chose  to be home last Winter, to face my Dad's illness with him, and help my family take care of him. I did this after running further and further north, partly to escape coming out to my family, which proved to be at once easier than I thought and harder than I could imagine. I came out to them knowing I would not have the wife and kids my parents deserved after putting up with such an arrogant, rebellious child.

But when my Dad died, try as I may, everything I had ever run from seemed to come crashing into my backside as his death brought my life - and my running - to a sudden halt.

So now, this first Christmas without him, I find myself dealing with learning to live life while exorcising all the ghosts that seem to continue to catch up to me. I'm doing this while consciously leaving the person with whom I promised to spend the rest of my life. And my knee-jerk reaction? I'm thinking about a rooming list I need to get from a client, prospecting I need to do to make my goals. I'm thinking about my trip to DC to visit a couple of dear friends in late January. I'm thinking about everything but what needs to be dealt with - as I've always done.

So as I force myself to turn about face and close my eyes and let it come at me - all the things from which I've run - I'm finding the impact reshaping who I am. But it's forcing me to stop shutting it all out. I've opened the floodgates and let the waves crash into me, head on.

I had the opportunity to once again take a position in DC. I didn't pursue it. I've made the decision to stay home for once. I'll wait for it all to catch up to me, and I'll deal with it all, one item at a time.

Eventually I'll be able to call Rhode Island without crying - I'll have to. I owe him at the very least that much. As much as I don't believe my partner and I are right for each other, at least not right now, (and as I write that without the conviction I think should have, given my decision), I so badly want him in my life. I will call his beautiful family and maintain a relationship with them. I will visit my Dad's grave more often. I will pay off my debts, and I will stop running.

I have been at perhaps the lowest point in my life this year. What I've felt has not compared to anything I've ever experienced. It's as if I've stopped running long enough for the sand storm to catch up and scour my skin raw to the bone.

But what I've learned this year is not that despite the painful parts of life, I want to live. I've learned that I want to live.

I don't want to miss anything. I have so much to do yet. I have two nieces and a nephew to watch grow up. I have to make more money so I can spoil them as an uncle should. I want my own children. I want them to know their brilliant cousins and incredible, fiercely loving family. I want them to feel as lucky as I do, despite it what life throws their way. I want to teach them to turn about face and not make the mistakes I've made.

This year, as broke as I might be, I went a little overboard with the shopping. Because of what I've lost, I have a new appreciation for what I have. Any shopper's remorse I might have will be cured by huge blue eyes smiling through torn Christmas paper. It'll reinforce why I'm here, in South Carolina.

I love my job. Yep - I love it. It's been a very long time since I could really say that. I have amazing bosses and incredible coworkers. Yes, hospitality and I are going through a very extended, very messy divorce - but we're learning to live with each other for a while before it's finalized.

This Christmas my Dad's absence will be heavy. When we're all smiling, laughing, opening gifts and enjoying each others' company, it will be the elephant not in the room. I'll also wake up tomorrow morning thinking about someone in Rhode Island, and I'll go to bed tomorrow night thinking about him. I'll probably spend every day for a very long time wondering if I made the right decision.

But I'll also think about who's here. I'll hug my nieces and nephew a little tighter. I'll hug my Mom and sister and Bio-Dad a little more often. I will embrace what's here, because now more than ever I would love to realize how much I love something while I can still reach out and touch it.

For once I want to stop having one foot in Rhode Island and another foot in England, while admiring the world in front of me from a comfortable distance. It's what I've always done, and I think it's time to live and act here and now. It's time to end the permanent detour. If my Dad left me nothing else, if he never taught me anything else, it's just that - his last gift to me on the first Christmas without him.

Merry Christmas everyone. Hug your family. Love what you have.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gold Name Tags Are All The Rage

I was helping a group contact unload some gifts into the ballroom for a Christmas party this afternoon when a guest intercepted me and asked what I've been asked oh so many times while working in hotels - even back when I wore a uniform - "Do you work here?"

My knee-jerk response is to say "No, gold name tags are all the rage." I typically bite my tongue, (a skill in which anyone who's been in the hotel industry for any length of time has mastered), smile and say "yes." Or, if it's been a really bad day, "no" (and walk away with a satisfied smile).

I've heard it said that there are no stupid questions, only stupid people. Well, I disagree. There are both, in abundance. I realize that often these people were not necessarily stupid, however absolutely no thought was given to the question before their question was asked.

To follow is a small sampling of some of the interrogative gems I've collected over the years. First-listed is the response I would like to have made, (or may have, had I been that quick) followed by the approximate actual response.

Enjoy, and please feel free to share your own brushes with the dimly witted.

Asked while I stood behind what could not be mistaken for anything other than a hotel registration desk:

"Is this where we check in?"
No. For our amusement and yours, we have hidden the registration desk. It's a fun little game we like to play.
Actual response: "Yes, sir. It is."

Asked while I was guiding tours on the River Thames:

"Why did the royal family have [Windsor] Castle built on the flight path to Heathrow Airport?"
I'm sure that back in 1066 William the Conqueror executed someone for this severe lack of foresight.
Actual response: Blank stare to allow the other tourists to laugh. (Believe it or not - when I relayed this story, it appears it had been asked multiple times).

"Does this boat drop people off where it picks them up?"
No. We take you to London and leave you with a map and some bread crumbs.
Actual response: "Typically, yes."

"Does this boat go on the water here?"
No. You are looking at the rare but exciting levitating boat. Once all are boarded and securely in their seats, we take them on an aerial tour of the Thames Valley.
Actual response: "Typically, yes."

"Can you direct me toward Windsor Castle?" (Please keep in mind that Windsor Castle is on a hill, and is highly visible to anyone in the town, and neighboring towns).
You know, I'm really not sure. I've been meaning to go by and see what it looks like.
Actual response: (Point)

"How long is the half-hour tour?" (yes. really.)
Five hours sir, or if you pay double, overnight.
Actual response: "31 minutes."

"Is there a bar on the boat?"
"Do you serve alcohol?"
No. Soup only.
Actual response: "Yes, would you like another drink?" (I was a little bolder in my youth)

"Where do we buy tickets?"
In Paris - or, on Tuesdays in Southwest London.
Actual response: (Point at the VERY large, signed, ticket office ten feet away).

Asked while working in a downtown Charleston hotel:

"What happens to the city outside of tourist season?"
Well, we pack it into little boxes and ship it to Los Angeles. We keep it in the same warehouse as Williamsburg, Virginia.
Actual response: "It's much the same, with fewer people."

"What's East of Charleston?"
Iraq. Or, if you keep going for a while, Charleston again.
Actual response: "The Atlantic Ocean."

(Asked while a bellman drove a car into the garage across the street right in front of us)
"Do you valet?"
No. We will take your car and sell it on the black market. Oops, the secret it out.
Actual response: "Typically, yes."

Asked working at Middleton Place, a plantation and Inn near Charleston:

"Where do you keep the alligators?"
In the guest rooms. I'll make sure he's gone before you get there.
Actual response: "They do pretty well on their own."

"Were there slaves on this plantation?"
Nope. Back in the day it was full of Oompa Loompas.
Actual response: "Unfortunately, yes."

"Is the honeymoon suite an actual suite?"
It is in fact a parlor with two twin beds and an outhouse.
Actual response: "Not just in name only."

Though this was not a guest question, I have to mention it. I had just locked up the lodge, and saw a bobcat about ten feet from my car. I radioed the registration building, where my friend Amy was (unbeknown to me) checking in a couple of guests.
"Amy, come in."
"Go ahead Will."
"There's a bobcat about ten feet away from my car."
"Is he on the other side of your car from you?"
"For the moment."
"Walk up to your car very slowly."
"Working on that."
"Get in and lock the doors."
I could not help but laugh. "Are they good with car doors?"

Working in Tysons Corner, in a suburb of Washington, DC:

"Is this the Marriott?"
No. Not THE Marriott. That's somewhere else. This is just a decoy. Good, isn't it?
Actual response: (After glancing up at the VERY prominent glowing red Marriott sign on top of our tower). "Yes, sir."

"Are the White House and all the monuments and stuff within walking distance?"
Everything is in walking distance, eventually.
Actual response: "Unfortunately, no."

(Early in the morning, outside the restaurant, buffet in full view)
"Do you serve breakfast here?"
No. What you're smelling is actually a breakfast-scented spray we use in the lobby for a fresh morning atmosphere.
Actual response: "Yes."

Working in a Marriott in Providence, Rhode Island - standing in the very large parking lot:

"Can we park here?"
No. We ask our guests not to bring cars, or otherwise park at the mall.
Actual response: "Typically, yes."

"Do the elevators go all the way to the top?"
Yours don't. (Or) No. These only go up three floors, but the stairs are very nice.
Actual response: "Usually, yes."

(Asked by a guest arriving from New York)
"What time is it here?"
The same time in New York. Except on Tuesdays.
Actual response: (I told her the time, and she looked somewhat surprised, but didn't say another word. Some people travel so much they really do forget what city they're in, so this is almost forgivable.

(Pointing to the telephone on the concierge desk)
"Can I make calls on this phone?"
No, but isn't it pretty?
Actual response: "I believe you may."

(Group contact standing by several long tables full of chafing dishes and platters of cold items)
"Is this the buffet?"
No, but it sure looks a lot like one, don't you think?
Actual response: "Yes sir it is."

Working in a restaurant in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina:

"Are all the steaks made of beef?"
No, some are made of Plexiglas.
Actual response: "Typically, yes."

"What does La Casa Di Romanza mean?"
The house of meat.
Actual response: "The house of romance" (with restrained gag reflex)

"Is this your wine list?"
No, this is Cliff's Notes on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Actual response: "I believe it is, yes."

While studying in culinary school, after class, in my chef's whites in a supermarket (our executive chef here at the Marriott Greenville recently experienced the same thing):

"Oh, are you a chef?"
No, why?
"Maybe one day."

Working as a corporate event planner in Greenville, South Carolina:

"Is your hotel near the beach?"
As compared to say, Kansas, yes.
Actual response: "We're only a few hours away from the nearest beach."

"Do your data projectors work well with laptops?"
No, we've had to have a few come-to-Jesus meetings. They're very mean projectors.
Actual response: "I've never had an issue that couldn't be easily resolved."

"Can we eat in the restaurant?"
Only on Tuesdays.
Actual response: "Yes, you certainly can."

(This group's meeting started at 7am)
"Can I get in the room at 6 to start setting up?"
No. We have an overnight event in that room, and they break half an hour before you. You may go in promptly at 7.
Actual response: "Yes, you can."

This could go on. And on. I get these types of questions all the time. I mean all the time. Almost every day, in fact. I look forward to going back to school and getting as far away from tourism and hospitality as I can - however this divorce (as mentioned in a previous blog) from hospitality is getting messier all the time. And if I do end up in public relations, I'm not sure how much better it will get.

There are stupid people everywhere. And they all keep finding me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Silk-Shealy-Vaughn-Blanc-Eastman-Johnson-Bailey-Jenkins: My Family

This will be the first Thanksgiving without my Dad. Not Bio-Dad mind you, but Brit-Dad. (For a full differentiation, see, but Brit-Dad was my stepfather).

Among others, one of my best friends, Maria, and her brother and aunt will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year. Maria is Argentinian, and of course does not make the long trek to South America for an American holiday. Last year she joined us, and it is quickly becoming tradition for her to do so every year. Aside this from being an assurance that we actually see each other once a year, she has (as a few of my friends have) quickly become a part of the family. Maria was with us for Dad's last Thanksgiving, and was fortunate enough to get to know him a little before he died. Like everyone who met him, she was enamored by his quick wit, jovial disposition, and general ability to see the humorous side of any given situation, and poke fun at those who couldn't.

With everything that's happened in the past year (the death of my Dad, my divorce), I've really come to a new understanding of what family really is. Of course I will be saying nothing new here, and as cliche'd a time to discuss the meaning of family this may be, the cliche' makes the statement no less true.

My closest friends - Sam, Maria, Yarnell, have seen the absolute worst of me. They've seen me through the brightest and darkest times of my life over the past few years, and are still there. They have exhibited unconditional love, and that is the purest definition of family.

Those who know both my mother and me well will probably tell you that aside from looks (that are decidedly Shealy), I inherited everything from my mother. And with that side of the family, I have much in common. But here's the thing - I'm not blood-related to any of them (aside form of course my Mom and Bio-Sis). My mother was adopted, as were my two first cousins. My English family is technically related through marriage, and yet I could tell you a trait I share with each of them. From this family to the relationship I have with my closest friends, I can tell you that family has absolutely nothing to do with DNA.

My Dad was not my biological father (though I am in the process of building some of the relationship with Bio-Dad that I lacked growing up), but he was very much my father. He shaped who I am today in so many ways. I see him in me all the time, even sometimes when I glance in the mirror. He taught me to question everything, to challenge even the seemingly obvious. He taught me to scratch the surface of any situation, disregarding any assumed facts. He helped teach me by example to get over my shyness by not taking myself so seriously.

Don't get me wrong - I have plenty in common with the Shealys, aside from looks. I notice it whenever I'm around my aunts, or when my sister and I have our rare-but-wonderful times away from everybody else. But so much of my character comes from the Silk side, so much of my early molding comes from the Davis side, so many of my values come from the Johnson-Eastman-Blanc side, that I could never claim one particular family as my own.

But I am extraordinarily grateful for them to have claimed me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everyday Animosity

Most of us consider ourselves nice people. Most of us - there are a few out there who take pride in their outward bitterness toward the world at large, but I believe they're in the minority. But they are there - they know who they are. I've planned their meetings.

But most of us really do believe we are nice people. By "most of us" I include the woman who, on the morning commute, pretends to not see me, or my signal as she continues up the road in the adjacent lane, about three miles per hour faster than me. "Most of us" includes the jerk who gets in my lane, right ahead of me, in the ever-persistent quest to just - be - one - more - car ahead. Really dude, you saved like a second in travel time.

"Most of us" includes the guy who cuts me off to steal the last empty pump at the gas station. It includes the man clearly yelling, veins-in-forehead visible, at the traffic light. Anger at an electric light. Really.

Unfortunately, this list also includes I - who swears at these people as I drive to work every morning. And yet the moment I step into work, I forget about all of it. None of these instances occur to me throughout the remainder of the day - not one. We all do this, on some level or another. Had we met any of these people in casual face-to-face conversation, there would be no rudeness, no glares, no finger gestures, as it's entirely unacceptable to do this when there are not two car windows separating you. It becomes socially awkward to vent your feelings honestly, however brash they may be, when out of the car.

But once out of the car, the animosity doesn't end. Workplace gossip, (telling someone something about someone else, just for the entertainment factor, completely disregarding the outcome), workplace politics, and the general smearing of the names of the people many of us see more than out own families - I don't get it. But I think it's a manifestation of the same road rage.

A guest who walks through the lobby - they may have a mullet, or their jeans may be exposing a quarter-moon, or they may simply look out of place, are relegated to a piece of walking entertainment value. I've been guilty of the quiet laughter as well - but lack of compassion is still a form of animosity.

Getting off the phone with a client and rolling eyes; sticking a middle finger at the wall when an annoying co-worker leaves the room; sending an email dripping in sarcasm from your perspective, syrupy sweet from that of the reader's. I've been guilty of some (okay, maybe all) of these things, but I know I'm not alone in this. I also know that when I see these people, I am genuinely happy to see them. I want to help them. I want to figure out how I can make their day, in some cases their life, a little easier.

And yet we return to the evening commute. We've forgotten all about the angers of the morning commute. And we find new ones. And we go home, and begin our evening rituals - cooking dinner, watching movies, working an hour longer, whatever they may be. And not once do we consider the levels of animosity we've exhibited. We don't consider the casual disdain of our fellow human beings as anything other than general annoyance.

We might have a glass of wine, then go to bed, and wake up - beginning the cycle anew.

Casual anger doesn't feel harmful. Not to ourselves, not to others. I would argue the contrary on both ends. These little episodes add up, make light work of eroding our basic human compassion.

We're so caught up in our little worlds being inconvenienced by the likes of others, we forget that they may be experiencing the same. My client rolls her eyes when she hangs up the phone with me. As I'm extending my middle finger to the empty doorway, my annoying co-worker is rolling their eyes, wishing they hadn't had to come talk to me. The aspiring gossip-columnist in the office secretly wonders what everyone has to say about him/her. The woman who didn't let me pass was so worried about a meeting she had that day, or the potential to be laid off, or the fight she had with her husband that morning, she was not remotely aware of a turn signal.

I'm not saying we should all stop, think, and find a way to play nice, both internally and externally. We're human, so it's just not going to happen - not all of the time.

But if just once a day, when you're tempted to act out in aggression, however inconsequential and meaningless it might seem to you, try - just for a moment - to understand your target's perspective.

We might actually get somewhere, and the morning commute could be just a little easier.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In Defense of Buffy

"Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass." – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Camp: The Lie That Tells The Truth” – Phillip Core

If somebody mentions “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” what images immediately pop into your mind? If you’re flipping channels, and the info box at the bottom of the screen reads: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” do you even bother to watch it for five seconds? I couldn’t previously blame anyone for the likely answers to these two questions, (I couldn’t even get past the name of the show), but about five or six years ago, while having a beer after work, decided to leave the show on for a few minutes. I’ve never looked back.

Here is a well-written, thoughtful show that dealt candidly with alienation, addiction, self-destruction, suicide, loss, grief, homosexuality, and self-mutilation - wrapped in a package of a silly teen drama. It used allegory to deal with everything from homelessness and heroin addiction to puppy love and puberty.

It dealt with the most serious questions and sober answers of life, with flooring frankness and humor. Mostly though, I think its defining characteristic was its unwavering unpredictability. I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind with this blog entry, but I intend to make a case for Buffy. Call me a nerd, but there was something more to this show than teen angst, fantasy storytelling or cliffhangers.

It was simply a show about people in high school and college, falling in love, becoming addicted to drugs, (allegorically magic), and living otherwise normal lives, in the normal Southern California town of Sunnydale – that was built on the mouth of Hell.

I’ll make my case first by listing the characters, and who they were throughout the seven years of the show. These are the reasons why it’s incredibly silly, completely absurd, and why I’m totally in love with it.

Buffy Summers: Wanted normalcy more than anything in the world; wanted to be a cheerleader, to go watch Disney on Ice with her father every year, go on shopping sprees , and sit on prom committees. But she was trapped by who she was. I know, you have your formula for any comic book hero. But then she killed her first love, later fell in love with someone without a soul, watched her mother die of a brain tumor, raised a sister who doubted her own existence (as did Buffy), then finally died and went to heaven. Only then, when she had her happy ending,her friends – who were trying help – ripped her out of paradise to come back and help them through their own personal hells.

Willow Rosenberg: Perfect student, perfect friend, devoted to everyone around her; secretly waited to come out of the closet as a lesbian, suffered from an addiction that ended up killing one character and nearly another. Eventually she tried to blow up the world.

Xander Harris: Referred to himself once as “The Zeppo” – the one who never contributed, never did anything, and lived in the shadows of great people around him. Eventually he got his eye gouged out, but still tried to stay behind and help. He was made Dracula’s slave, was raped by a praying mantis, and ultimately was engaged to a demon (in human form) who later tried to murder him after he left her at the altar.

Joyce Summers: Buffy's mother, when at the end of the second year of the show found out her daughter was the slayer, asked: “Have you ever tried not being a slayer?” It was a coming-out story far too many people have experienced. (Not the slayer part, I mean). Ultimately she was completely supportive of anything her monster-killing, vampire-loving, super-human daughter did. After five years on the show, she was killed – not by supernatural means, but by a brain tumor. There was absolutely nothing Buffy could do about it. The episode – titled “The Body” had no background music, just scene by scene of how Buffy was reacting to her mother’s sudden death (she had been treated for cancer, was out of the hospital, and was expected to be okay). In one scene it appeared Buffy, after discovering Joyce’s body, had managed to get her to breathe again, get paramedics to come help, get her mother to the hospital in an ambulance, and later embrace her in a hospital bed – only for the scene to cut abruptly back to Buffy staring at her mother’s body.

Dawn Summers: Buffy’s little sister appeared during the first episode of the fifth year. For three episodes, no explanation was given. Buffy had always been an only child. Only later does the viewer discover that Dawn had been created – along with everyone’s memories of her - just weeks prior. This was not a situation brought to us by Plot Convenience Playhouse. It was the introduction of a bratty teenage girl who, when discovering that she was not human, slashed herself with a knife in an attempt to discover if she felt any pain, if she would bleed like anyone else. It was Buffy’s job to protect her little sister, keep her from being killed. Buffy later killed herself to save her sister – hence the being dragged back from heaven bit I mentioned earlier. It was an extreme statement on the meaning of family, sacrifice, and who you are in spite of where you came from. It might be a simple lesson, but it was well-executed, if someone dramatically. Well, we are talking about Buffy.

Anya Jenkins: Former “vengeance demon,” spent a thousand years bringing justice to wronged women, only to have her powers stripped away and live like any other human. She was a child in some ways, re-learning what it’s like to be human, while retaining the wisdom (and sarcasm) of a thousand-year-old. She lived through (and partially caused) the Russian Revolution, and yet could not understand people on a basic human level. She eventually sacrificed herself saving one of the most seemingly irredeemable characters of the show – a character who had only really served as a running punchline.

Spike: A vampire without a soul, (as opposed to Angel, who had one), who eventually fell in love with Buffy. For five seasons he obsessed over her, which vampires I guess don’t do. They just maim kill people on this show. He tried to rape Buffy, and in self-hate went on a mission halfway around the world to restore his soul . The lesson here was that the act of doing it was enough. Again, simple, but a fun way to tell it. Spike eventually dies to save everyone.

Okay, I could go on, there are several more recurring characters, but these were the most important to the storyline.

Another thing Buffy had going for it was the dialogue. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the show:

"Buffy - love the hair. It just screams street urchin."

"Once again, the Hell mouth puts the special in special occasion."

"Sure, alternate realities. You could uh, could have like a world without shrimp. Or with, you know, nothing but shrimp. Just don't ask me to live there."

"I think it's the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively. I'm thinking face-to-face for the event itself"

"I Anya, promise to love you, to cherish you, to honor you, uh, but not to obey you, of course, because that's anachronistic and misogynistic and who do you think you are, like a sea captain or something?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Martha Stewart isn't a demon. She's a witch. Nobody could do that much decoupage without calling on the powers of darkness."

"People who think their problems are so huge craze me, like this time I sort of ran over this girl on her bike. It was the most traumatizing event of my life, and she's trying to make it about her leg. Like my pain meant nothing"

"Buffy, I'm here to kill you, not to judge you"

"Oh please. I don't mean to interrupt your downward mobility, but I just wanted to tell you that you won't be meeting Coach Foster, the woman with the chest hair, because gym was canceled due to the extreme dead guy in the locker."

"Where did you get that dress? This is a one-of-a-kind Todd Oldham. Do you know how much this dress cost? Is this a knock-off? This is a knock-off, isn't it? Some cheesy knock-off. This is exactly what happens when you sign these free trade agreements."

The list goes on –there are entire websites devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes. No, really – Google it.So naturally, sometime well into the series, Buffy was getting some mixed reviews – many of them stating that its success was at least partially riding on its dialogue.The wr iters responded with “Hush.”

“Hush” was an episode about fairy-tale monsters robbing everyone in town of the ability to speak. Nearly the entire show was done without words.  The episode was nominated for an Emmy (and in my opinion should have received it).

Without words, we are introduced to Tara, Willow’s long-time girlfriend – simultaneously discovering that Willow may be a lesbian.  Anya and Xander fall more in love. Buffy’s non-vampire boyfriend discovers what she can do – and at the end of the episode, when everyone’s voice returns, nobody can think of a thing to say.

Two years later, the writers went in the opposite direction, and produced the musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.” The episode was complete with extras, elaborate singing and dancing numbers, and some actually pretty-okay music. Through the musical episode we find out that Buffy was not raised from the dead, but rather dragged out of heaven, and that her friends have destroyed her while trying to save her.

One of the lyrics from the songs of “Once More With Feeling:”

There was no pain, no fear no doubt,
'Til they pulled me out of Heaven.
So that's my refrain.
I live in Hell, 'cause I've been expelled from Heaven.
I think I was in Heaven.
So give me something to sing about!
Please, give me something!

I know I’m a dork. You probably figured that out by now. But I’m not an enormous fan of fantasy, and less of one when it comes to teen dramas. But this show was so much more than a teen drama.

I likely won’t convince anybody to give this show a second glance. In fact, you might have decided this is a silly blog entry on which to spend my time. Maybe it is.

In so many ways Buffy the Vampire Slayer was sophomoric and downright silly. But it never claimed to be anything else. In fact, it embraced it. It was honest with what it was, and in so doing, became far more than what could be expected.

I wish more television was that unpredictable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The paranormal, the mysteries of life and the things that go "bump" have been known to keep me up at night. I know I'm not the only one, and while during the daylight hours I always think I was being silly the night before, the wee hours of the morning, when I've had little sleep, have a way of amplifying my fear while suspending my logic.

I knew I would want to tackle this subject eventually, and I thought that with Halloween looming, this would be as good a time as any.

I was married in Salem, Massachusetts. And though the historic witch trials only took up fifteen months of the city's nearly 384-year history, you would think it was all that had ever happened there. (Actually, the trials took place in neighboring town of Danvers). Don't get me wrong, there are a few museums and landmarks in Salem not devoted to the trials, (The House of the Seven Gables, Maritime Center, Pirate Museum, Peabody-Essex Museum), the town seems to be dedicated to the dark spot on its resume.

We were married in Salem mostly because it's a beautiful, surprisingly friendly (given its proximity to Boston) and liberal town. A gay marriage ceremony in the town square did not bring protests, or even a batted eyelid. But the place is dotted with magic shops, witch museums, haunted houses, ghost walks, and a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery in the town square. There's even a museum dedicated to Lizzie Bordon, which is odd, since the infamous ax murders took place in Fall River, 70 miles to the South. But these are things that bring in the money. These tourist traps are what make Salem a Halloween Mecca and a trip to Salem a veritable Hajj for Wiccans and their ilk.

Why does this otherwise beautiful town need to focus on a piece of history that could be considered shameful and embarrassing? Again - money talks. And why does the the lure of the supernatural draw so many visitors?

I've had my fair share of odd experiences, unexplainable events. I'm a jinx around electronics. Recently my password to our reservations system at work was expiring every hour or so, for no good reason. I didn't think much about it at the time, but the same thing has happened to my email accounts at work, my voice mail, and even the desktop to my computer. Coupled with my experiences of what some in the old south call a "hagging" (though I never saw the thing, as it really just consisted of my being awake but unable to move, and have since read up on many reasonable explanations), dreams that seem to come true during the day in one form or another, (though always in hindsight, and anything is open to interpretation) and just general weirdness that seems to surround me, I tend to raise an eyebrow when anything out of the ordinary occurs. My life has always been full of odd coincidences, feelings of not being alone, (again scientifically explainable), and just about a weekly bout of serious deja vu. But I don't obsess over them. Obsessing over these things will not solve their collective mystery. I've never found a reason for any of these things, and I likely never will. I'm not worried about it in the slightest. I kind of like not knowing when it comes to these things, at least not concretely.

But it's still fun to ponder the unexplainable from time to time. Why?

It's widely known that during times of strife and unrest people flock to the movies more often. Television programs like Heroes, Lost and Smallville do very well. More interestingly, programs that more closely resemble our lives, (relatively speaking of course) like Desperate Housewives, House, Brothers & Sisters, etc.. do equally well, if not better. They require less effort to engage, less suspension of reality. They allow escapism to be easy, make light work of taking us to another universe, just one that doesn't happen to be populated by aliens or ghosts, unless they choose to "jump the shark." We can escape into others' lives, and not feel like we're watching fantasy - though we are.

Is this a healthy outlet? It could be that by allowing ourselves to become absorbed in these very-recognizable universes such as Wisteria Lane, we subconsciously find solutions to our own real-life problems, as they're extrapolated into a preposterous situation in our 42" worlds. We crave the catharsis, the reaching of a conclusion to an impossible situation in an hour. We can easily become addicted to that catharsis when in life we haven't reached those solutions ourselves.

Some likely think their lives are too boring, or more seriously may be afraid to examine their own lives more closely. Dangerously, television can fill that gap nicely, if you let it.

What does this have to do with the obsession by some in the paranormal? Absolutely everything.

By focusing on life's mysteries, we suspend our own realities. Sci-fi, horror, fantasy, to some is what drinking is to others - holding the clutches of the real world at arm's length just long enough to get some sweet escapist relief. Eventually though, the movie ends and the lights come back on. You can buy another ticket and go back in for another feature, but the theater will have to eventually close.

This isn't always the case - there are countless aspiring Fox Mulders out in the world who really do wish to find the truth of these seemingly other-worldly events through observation, experimentation and analysis. Their motives may not be escapism, but then again, their motives may be no less than to reel their projected fantasy world into reality by using logic. Just a thought.

So why does all this hold my interest? Into which category to I belong? I think I need to know that there is more going on. This is by no means an uncommon need.

The incidents I mentioned in my life above, and maybe a little more, are enough to tell me that there is in fact much more to life than what we see. Maybe those bumps we hear in the night are knocks on our doors. Maybe if there are unknown intelligences 'out there,' our mere suspicion of their existence keeps some of us going through the darkest times of our lives.

I'm not going to delve into my personal belief system here, but when there are events in life that can't be explained, you can do one of three things: You can ignore and dismiss them, you can obsess over them and lose sleep over research, or you can simply go with your gut. The third option is where I fall. To me this makes the most sense - answer the questions of life's outer mysteries with your own inner ones. Isn't this why human intuition exists, to fill the gaps logic can't?

It's a pretty big world out there, and it's arrogance to believe we've done more than just begin to scratch the surface. Last week a mysterious ribbon of particles were discovered at the edge of our solar system, by the way, like the rest of the universe, is full of matter that we also can't explain or even identify ). We can't even fully explain gravity. We haven't yet begun.

Bumps in the night should not surprise us.

Maybe that bump in the night is a knock at the door. Maybe it's a knock that comes late at night, in the darkest hour before the sun illuminates the real world in the morning. Maybe you answer the knock, and nobody is there.

And maybe the one who knocked just wanted to know if you were paying attention.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hospitality and Me: The Beginning of a Messy Divorce

Dear John:

   After fifteen years of our relationship and eight years of marriage, I regret to tell you, it’s finally over. For you I’ve been a front desk agent, bartender, night auditor, cook, tour guide, sales assistant, banquet manager, room service server, restaurant manager, concierge, and event planner. On two occasions I have worked twenty-four-hour straight shifts for you. I have sacrificed relationships, time with friends and countless holidays for you.
   You have taught me life skills, work ethic and the value of diversity. You’ve tested the limits of my stamina and perseverance. You’ve shown me that when you feel have no more energy left to give, no more time, no more patience, that you’ve only begun to tap your inner resources.
   You’ve taught me to deal with stress. You’ve taught me to juggle difficult clients, angry staff and a tight budget. You’ve taught me that your staff, your clients and your employers will grade you equally, and that each scorecard is as important as the other.
   Despite all you’ve given me, I no longer love you. You deserve somebody who can give you the love I once did, and who truly wishes to be in this marriage. I no longer have the need for it, and feel it’s truly time for me to move on.

Warmest Regards,

William E. Shealy
Various Hotels, Usually Marriott International
DIRECT: 843-867-5309

Okay, so it’s been years coming. I’ve tried so many aspects of this business, and have found some grade of fulfillment or another in each of them – until now. I’ve decided that it’s finally time to move on. It wasn’t that it was an easy decision to make, either.

I’ve devoted so much time and energy, sacrificed more than I care to admit, to the pursuit of one day becoming a general manager and perhaps moving on to a corporate position. It was all simply because I knew this was an attainable goal, and with ach position I learned more – and yet always felt like I could be learning even more some place else, in another field. Walking out of various hotels at 2am, wondering what it would be like to actually go to work and leave while the sun was up, I thought I could finally find a life balance by changing fields within the field and become an event planner.

Now that I’m there, I’ve run into the same situation – a sort of boredom. Not the kind of boredom that equals not having enough to do, the kind that comes from wishing you were someplace else a little too much throughout the day. There’s a certain appeal to maintaining relationships the hotel has with its clients, to planning events, a certain creativity to working with banquets to pull off a wonderful event within the confines of a tight budget.  But again – I feel like it’s wrong for me. I feel like I’m cheating myself, and my employer.

There’s also a certain dishonesty that revolves around being different people for different clients, to painting any picture in the light required to convince the clients that we are always exactly what they need. It’s fun – but I’ve been doing the same thing in one sense or another for way too long.

It’s time to move on.

But I still struggle with it. I love this business enough to have engaged in a serious debate over the past several months. Is it really me?

Several months ago, when I was deciding between a few different jobs, Bio-Dad suggested I write out a list of my likes and dislikes with each opportunity, so I might better see the positives and negatives on paper, and more clearly debate them. (I paraphrase his exact words). So I did that here – here are my results:

The Good:

1)      Diversity! There is so much diversity in the workplace. In any hotel you’ll find about half the employees are from other states, other countries. It brings such a wonderful dynamic, to have so much perspective available to you for each decision. You find little racism, next to no xenophobia, so much acceptance of various backgrounds, that it’s very easy to be yourself, if only around your team.

2)      It’s Rewarding. Particularly in events, you can see the fruit of your labors right in front of you. Be it with an event you’ve planned or set up, or the success of an associate you’ve trained and helped work through their individual challenges – your success is tangible and visible.

3)      People. You cannot work in this industry unless you appreciate people. And if you do, it’s a wonderful place to be. There are countless opportunities to help people, to help show them their potential, to learn from people whose experiences are so much more vast than your own, that you cannot help but to grow. You grow from those you teach even more from those who are teaching you. You grow from getting to know your guests, you grow from learning to anticipate others’ needs. It’s a true, continuous learning environment. You learn and grow, or you get left behind.

4)      Life Lessons! You are forced to develop a work ethic, to learn to juggle priorities, to sort said priorities, to succeed or fail with no middle ground. You learn to act creatively, to improvise, to be honest, to stand up for your successes and acknowledge your mistakes. In acknowledging your mistakes you learn to grow from them. If you don’t acknowledge your mistakes, someone else will. And you have to acknowledge them, and fix them fast. There’s no time for floundering when everything you do is on a timetable.

5)      Days go by fast! If I’ve learned nothing else from hospitality, it’s this: give somebody one task and all day to do it, and it will likely get it done to your satisfaction. Give them ten things to do, and give them a time limit, and they will amaze you with the results. This goes both ways – I function better with a stopwatch now, and I’ve learned that most people, when presented with a hurdle, jump higher than when presented with a speed hump. Fifteen hours feels like eight. An hour feels like a few minutes. A week feels like a few days, and a year feels like a few months. Yes, the days fly by, and often way too fast.

6)      The Food! Working in a hotel, it’s easy to get spoiled by the food. As I eat my grapefruits, pleaches, (yes, pleaches) and raw vegetables, undoing the damage of so many years of hotel food, I know that I ate better than most. I’ve sampled innumerable wedding cakes, delicate pastries, tailored oils, fine rare meats, exotic sauces, fruits from around the world. These, mind you, were mostly leftovers in the staff caff. We have better day-old leftovers than you might find in many excellent restaurants.

7)      Creatvity. You have next to no storage space. You have a team making far less than you know they deserve. You have a laughable budget to give your team the tools they need to do their jobs, but your team rates you twice a year on your performance. You’re also rated monthly on your spending. And you have to make sure each guest is smiling when they walk out the door, because they rate you as well. In event planning, you have to work with the chef to create menus that are memorable, and yet inexpensive to produce. You have to decorate with old, oft-broken equipment. In catering you have to work with beat-up hot-boxes that work only with a dozen lit Sternos, out of a catering van that probably can’t be washed due to being held together by the dirt, (there’s an unwritten rule that catering vans must be dented, old, fuel-guzzling beasts. Oh, and they must have a rear door that does not open unless you hit it a certain way, kick the bumper at the right time, and simultaneously push a hidden lever on a  door that’s about to rust out if its hinges). The plates must be chipped, and the silverware must need constant polishing. And not only does each event have to appear a shining, flawless, unique vision, but you have to ensure each associate is smiling as brightly as you, as hard as that may be. Yes, you have to be creative, and you have to be creative on a budget.

      The Bad:

1)      Angry Guests. You are a front desk agent. You come into work, clock in, arrive at the desk, and start to review your day ahead – suddenly a guest is screaming at you. Any onlooker will assume this is either a complete butthole, or that the hotel has royally screwed up. (Usually they assume the latter). You have to make it right, because it is your fault. It’s your fault, if for no other reason than your nametag has the hotel logo printed in the corner. The customer may not always be right, but they damn well better believe they are before the conversation is over. And even if it’s the fault some other associate (who may not even work there anymore), it’s your fault now. Any problem becomes your problem. Any negative situation is your doing in the eyes of the guest. Perception is reality. Some people come in angry. Some know that anger equals rewards points, free rooms, and the occasional meal. Some can never be pleased. But they have to appear to be, and even if you’re not, they have to believe you’re truly sorry.  And you have to do something about it. There and then. On a budget.

2)       Getting sick all the time! Hotels are breeding grounds for illness. Viruses are born on airplanes and mature in hotels. You shake hands constantly. You take money. You touch used linens. You pick up used glasses. You carry dirty plates. If there’s a new strain of flu, you will get it. If you hear someone talk about a nasty cold going around, you just hope you don’t get it before the next big event. Because you will get it. And you cannot miss work, so you will give it to your team. And later you will cover for them when they can't come in.

3)      The Other Side of Diversity. You have to ensure that associates from various nationalities, religions, life experiences, work well together, because they do not do so naturally. You have to do this when they have not slept, have not had time for breaks, (though it’s the law they take them), and they have to work with an equally diverse clientele. Given enough sleep deprivation and stress, anyone’s maturity level becomes that of a three year-old. It’s your job to ensure they interact well before you end up in a meeting in human resources. Once again, if associates fight, it can be construed as your fault. Arguably, any negative situation can be diffused before it escalates. Therefore, if you don’t catch the lit fuse and snuff it before it reaches the gun powder – and you saw its ignition – (and even if you didn’t) it very much is your fault.

4)      No Life. Working in hospitality is being married to hospitality. You do not leave until the job is done, period. Anything in your private life takes a back seat to your job. The moment it doesn’t, people notice, and people talk. Once again, perception is reality. You’re excellent at your job or you’re poor at it. If you’re mediocre, you don’t change positions, and if you don’t move up, you’re more likely to be laid off. If you’re still, you’re a sitting target, and if you leave early to catch dinner with family or go home for a holiday – and something goes wrong while you’re away, the question of why you were not there bounces around the hotel like a pinball. You simply have to be there.

5)      From the outside, your job is easy. From the outside, people might ask: How hard is it to serve food to a group? How hard can it be to plan a meeting? A monkey can check guests in. I won’t even begin to touch this one, it’s a blog entry in itself.

6)      The pay. Hotels are expensive to operate. It’s so prohibitively expensive to operate a full service property that sometimes I’m amazed prospective owners are interested in the business to begin with. I recently heard a couple pass an ATM machine in the lobby. The (presumable) husband said to the (presumable) wife, “they don’t miss a penny.” Well, he was right. Insurance, food cost, labor, maintenance, mortgage, marketing – all these things are more expensive than you can imagine. It’s no wonder salaries are lower than you might think.

7)      The superficiality of it all. Front-of-house people need to be pretty. In event planning and sales, you need to be whoever your client thinks you should be. And it’s your job to figure that out pretty quickly. Smiling ear to ear during a crisis, kissing babies, stroking egos at client luncheons – you have to make it all look seamless, happy, and easy. If you don’t, you’re not doing your job. A guest should never see you sweat, or be distressed. If they do, you’re apparently disorganized and in the wrong field.

      The bads outweigh the goods for me.

      I have met so many wonderfully creative, talented people in this business. And if it’s their life’s goal to become a general manager of a full-service property, or to move up in their specific field, or just continue to master what they do, then that’s wonderful. Anyone who chooses a hospitality career for life should be applauded.

      I am not one of those people. I said in a previous blog that I can do more in my life. This is not meant to demean those who are pursuing this career for life. Quite the contrary, I am in awe of them. Hospitality workers are among the most patient, people-loving people you can ever meet. If they’re not, they won’t be in the industry very long.

      General managers who have worked their way up through the ranks are some of the most dynamic, intelligent, intuitive people you will ever meet. Servers who have waited banquet tables for decades are people you could teach anyone about patience, stamina, creativity, and discipline.

      I will probably miss this business, but not for a while. I maintain a pipe dream that maybe one day Eric and I can open a B&B. I hope I can get plenty of rest between now and then.

Hospitality, I love you. But it’s time for me to move on.